“The Babadook” is a horror movie about something wicked lurking around somewhere, and it is quite an effective one. Slowly building up the sense of dread around its ominous background, the movie works as the harrowing drama of a strained human relationship, and then it terrifies us a lot as this relationship is being pushed to dark, sinister territories under its malevolent undertone. Because we understand well at that point how helpless and vulnerable its main characters are, we begin to fear for whatever may happen to them eventually, and they are indeed approaching to a certain point step by step while they become more trapped by their terrifying circumstance.
To Amelia (Essie Davis), the life has been very hard and difficult during last several years. She lost her dear husband Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) 7 years ago, and she has been raising her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) alone in their melancholic suburban house whose Victorian interior design is full of gray pastel tone besides a shabby basement currently storing her deceased husband’s relics. I must say this is not an ideal place for raising kid, but I guess the house was not expensive for her and her husband when they bought it.
Amelia currently works as an orderly in some nursing home, but her job does not look that stable or satisfying, and she already looks very stressful and exhausted mainly due to her son who looks like having some sort of hyperactivity disorder. We later learn that he keeps making troubles at his school due to his monster story and his hand-made weapons for fighting against the monster, and Amelia does not know what to do with her troublemaking son while still grieving about her husband’s death. He was killed by an unfortunate accident which happened during their drive to the hospital, and that fact sometimes makes her distant to her own son, whose very presence always reminds her of what happened right before his birth.
At least, she has been trying her best in spite of frustration and exhaustion accumulating inside her mind. She stands by her son when school teachers tell her that he needs to be monitored, and she reads him storybooks whenever he asks before his bedtime, and she tries to tolerate many of his hyperactive behaviors which surely drive any normal parent crazy within less than 30 minutes. At one point, he innocently tries something dangerous at the playground while his mother is being distracted for a while, and I can assure you that this moment will surely make any parental audiences gasp in horror.
And then strange things begin to happen in her daily life which already feels like a horror film of its own as fear and anxiety pressuring her day by day. During one night, Amelia happens to read a storybook titled “Mister Babadook” to Samuel, and this storybook, which was placed in the bookshelf along with other storybooks, does not look so suitable for any children right from its first pages. Its black-and-white illustrations of a bogeyman named Babadook are very disturbing to say the least, and its seemingly simple story feels more like an insidious prophecy as Amelia turns its pages, and its last blank pages ominously suggests something bad to happen sooner or later.
Amelia initially dismisses it as a merely creepy book, but then it turns out that the monster with which her son has been obsessed is none other than Babadook, and he really seems to believe its existence. Amelia thinks it is just his imaginary monster, but she starts to sense something around her and her son. As she begins to hear weird sounds during nights, she gets more nervous and exhausted while not having enough sleep, and her increasingly fragile mind becomes more susceptible to a mysterious influence which might be hovering around her.
The movie is based on a short film made by the first-time director/writer Jennifer Kent in 2005, and she did a terrific job here with her modest budget which was later supplemented with Kickstarter funding. She understands well the value of mood and suspense, and she deftly increases the level of tension on the screen as things are getting more disturbing around her two main characters. It is just a trivial matter of simple sounds and flickering light bulbs, but then it gradually looks like Babadook does exist as more scary things happen along the plot, and then we find ourselves suddenly hurled into a dark, moody claustrophobic terror unfolded inside the house which becomes increasingly isolated from the outside world. As focusing more on its heroine’s repressed anger, desperation, and frustration about to be ignited within the closed space, the movie clearly shows the influence from “The Shining” (1980), and there are a couple of horrific moments which may remind you of that classic horror film by Stanley Kubrick.
Good horror films usually have the characters we come to know and worry about, and Essie Davis and her young co-star Noah Wiseman are convincing as mother and son struggling with each own troubles in their distant state. Davis’s performance is a solid platform for the horror to come upon her character, and we seldom lose our sympathy toward Amelia even she is driven to extreme points to deeply disturb and frighten us. Wiseman is annoying as required in the beginning, but then we come to understand his viewpoint as the plot progresses, and I wonder about how the whole circumstance in the film would look to him. While concentrating on the fearful dynamics between its two main characters, the movie sometimes reminds us of the reality outside their closed space, and it is mainly represented by the minor supporting performers including Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, and Daniel Henshall.
“The Babadook” is a very good horror film which taps into human fears we can relate to and then unsettles us as amplifying them through its horror elements. It is skillful in the handling of a number of shocks amidst its constant, steady flow of tension, and it also has several nice touches including its uneasy last scene which somehow took me back to the final sequence of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986). Be careful of what you read – you may get a lesson which will never go away from you.